Many mums-to-be in Spain are desperately trying to have their babies early to beat a year-end deadline for a 2,500-euro 'cash-for-kids' benefit, sparking alarm among doctors.
Mums who give birth Friday will secure the cash.
But those who deliver just after the stroke of midnight rings in the New Year will lose out because the government has abolished the scheme from January 1, 2011 as it battles to slash the public deficit.
"I know colleagues who have had some requests from some patients, even those in the social security system, as after January 1 the payment of 2,500 Euros will disappear," said Dr Francisco Campillo y Arias-Camison, an obstetrician and gynaecologist at a private clinic in Madrid.
The scheme, which gives 2,500 Euros (R21.857) to the family of any Spanish resident for every new child, was introduced July 2007 by a Socialist government to boost a flagging birth rate.
But market fears that a European debt crisis could engulf Spain have forced the government to slash spending and mop up some of the red ink in its public accounts.
Internet forums are buzzing about the deadline with some users even offering advice on natural ways to help the process along, such as drinking raspberry tea or walking up stairs.
"If I could do it (induce pregnancy early) I would," said one woman on a maternity website. "Some famous people have done it for professional reasons, and nobody criticises them."
Obstetricians and gynaecologists have voiced concern at attempts by women to give birth prematurely.
"Advancing the delivery for 2,500 Euros is a barbarity," Juan Jose Vidal, head of gynecology at Madrid's Ruber International Clinic, told Spain's national broadcasting network, RTVE.
A premature delivery is "absolutely unadvisable" unless there is some pressing medical reason for it, warned Luis Merce Alberto, head of the National Centre of Ultrasound in Gynecology and Obstretrics (CENEGO).
"It would pose a perinatal problem because you have to help the child, to use an incubator or special measures, dramatically increasing the cost and putting the health of the newborn at risk," he told the ABC newspaper.
One midwife at a hospital in the southern city of Seville said some women are even trying to trick doctors.
"What we have seen in the public health system is that many pregnant women who plan births for the first half of January come in saying they are bleeding (from the cervix), or they have broken their waters," she told the newspaper El Pais.
"They don't dare ask openly, but we know they would like to advance the date."
However, doctors are not totally immune to the economic and social needs of pregnant women.
"With more than 38 weeks of pregnancy, there is no problem (to induce pregnancy) if the conditions" are right for a normal delivery, said Dr Campillo.
"The problem is that if the conditions are bad and we induce the delivery, it is more frequently necessary to do a C-section," an operation in which the fetus is born by cutting through the walls of the abdomen and uterus.
He also noted that "deliveries are often advanced for non-medical reasons," after the 38th week of pregnancy, for example if the husband has to be out of the country.
And he said there is always an end-of-year rush to give birth because, under Spanish law, a child born on December 31 will start school a year earlier than one entering the world a day later.
"So it's the reason that every year we find that some prefer to have their babies in December than in January. Only this year, we have this new economic aspect. I know in some cases they have asked for that."
Some 1.5 million mothers have benefited from the government's financial incentive since it was introduced, the ABC newspaper said.
But despite the scheme, Spain's birth rate declined last year for the first time in a decade, according to official data released in June.
The number of births in 2009 was down 5.0% from the previous year at 492,931, or 10.73 births for every one thousand inhabitants, the National Statistics Institute (INE) said. (Sapa/ December 2010)
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